Research Highlights

WSCB members work on conservation issues across our state and the globe. Here are some research highlights of our members:

Jennifer Stenglein – Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Jennifer is a research scientist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, with a principal interest in studying population dynamics to inform the conservation and management of wildlife populations. She received her Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2014. Currently, Jennifer is working on an exciting new citizen-based, statewide trail camera project called Snapshot Wisconsin. Through this project, the DNR partners with volunteers and educators to monitor trail cameras, which provide information on a variety of Wisconsin wildlife. The project’s goal is to improve the spatial and temporal resolution of wildlife monitoring data and to better inform wildlife management in Wisconsin.

Deer Hunter Wildlife Survey contributes data and photos such as these to aid monitoring efforts. Image courtesy of WIDNR; original available at http://goo.gl/eTqpRs.

 

Brendan Reid, American Museum of Natural History

Brendan Reid is a recent graduate of the UW-Madison’s Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology program. Road mortality can have an enormous impact on some species. Brendan, a genetics expert, turtle affiniciado, and WSCB member, is using spatially-explicit genetic analyses to understand the threats facing Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii).

Brendan and his advisor, Zach Peery, just released a study connecting genetic diversity and sex ratios with landscape-scale variables such as road density and public land area. Their study, published in Diversity and Distributions, examines some of the key threats to the endangered Blanding’s turtle and explores potential strategies to conserve this species. We caught up with Brendan, a PhD candidate in Forest and Wildlife Ecology at UW-Madison, to learn a little more about his work.

Turtle
Blanding’s turtle. Photo: Brendan Reid

WSCB: Why does land use impact Blanding’s turtle more than other turtle species?

BR: All three of the species studied in this paper (Blanding’s, snapping, and painted turtles) depend on wetlands or permanent bodies of water, so all three species have been impacted by loss of wetland habitat in the state to some extent. All three species also use upland habitats associated with these wetlands, and this is where the differences among species come into play. While painted turtles and snapping turtles are more sedentary and tend to stay in aquatic habitats, Blanding’s turtles move around a lot, often migrating over land to temporary wetlands in the spring and then back to more permanent water in the summer as these wetlands dry up. These movements expose them to their biggest predator nowadays: automobiles. In addition, we have lost many of the naturally open habitats that Blanding’s turtles have used in the past for nesting, and so turtles in areas with higher human footprints have begun to use road shoulders and driveways instead.

Turkey-Leg Tina
Turkey Leg Tina proudly showing
off her namesake.

WSCB: You’ve collected a lot of DNA samples from turtles over the years. Do you have a favorite turtle?

BR: There’s a Blanding’s turtle who was originally caught at my main field site back as a juvenile (~10 years old) in 1997. She was found nesting for the first time in 2004, and somewhere in between those two captures she’d lost one leg and most of her tail. We found her again every year of our study (2010-2013) – she was still missing the same appendages (we named her Turkey Leg Tina), but she’d come out almost every year to the same spot to lay her eggs. We actually found quite a few turtles that were missing various limbs but seemed to be getting along perfectly OK without them, which I think is a testament to how tough these animals are – if they aren’t getting run over by cars and the habitat they need is protected, they can do just fine.

 

WSCB: Did you have any particular challenges collecting or analyzing data for this paper? Any field-site mishaps?

BR: So Blanding’s is a CITES-listed species now and is protected over most of its range, but collection may still be problem. A smuggler was recently caught moving thousands of turtles (including Blanding’s) across the border in Detroit, presumably with the ultimate goal of getting them to markets in Asia. Anyways, I had a chance to witness the vigilance of the DNR firsthand – one of the first times I was working on public land outside my main field site, I was the subject of a sting operation by a pair of wardens who saw my traps and thought I was a poacher. Moral of the story: label your turtle traps clearly! At least now I have proof that the DNR is on top of the illegal overcollecting issue!

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